Ravings of a Lunatic #4: Failing at Winning Part I – Licensing

Making a game you have to win but failing to win at making it.

In my first article I went on about the successful games that have made it 20+ years and even mentioned all those that made it 10+ years and how Force kind of compares.  I thought this would be a good time to revisit those 10+ year games and see how they failed.  Then compare those issues to Force and see if a similar fate might be in the future for our favorite game.  By comparing other games/companies to Force and other successful games we can gain some more assurance of the where Eye Spy will be in the future.

Death and Taxes

Some things are certain in life, among them death and taxes.  This can be true for some games as well.  But a good company can outlive its founders.  Think Coke, Ford, Apple, and Disney.  Let’s delve into games that didn’t last too long, but long enough to make a statement about how they were.  Games that had a fanbase, a market share, and so on, but ended for other reasons.

A lot of TCGs never make it past 3 years due to not getting a place in the world.  They get canceled by their company, or the company goes under if that is all they are doing.  This usually has very little to do with the actual game themselves.  Most of these early fatalities took place in the great saturation of the late 90’s and early 2000’s.  There just weren’t enough geeks to sustain them. 

Things have changed since then, smarter business, better production, wider distribution models, and most importantly, more acceptance of geek culture.  Later games even made it past the 5-year mark, but still fell short of the decade goal.  There are few that have.  The list again from Ravings #1 to refresh memories.

  • Vampire: The Eternal Struggle (kind of dead)
  • Legend of the 5 Rings (kind of dead)
  • Star Wars – Decipher (kind of dead)
  • Star Trek – Decipher (kind of dead)
  • World of Warcraft (dead)
  • WWE Raw Deal (dead)
  • Duel Masters (dead in US)

Using other People’s Property – Licensing

The first group we will explore are the ones that failed because they used other people’s intellectual property.  Somehow, they managed to acquire a deal that allowed them to use these ideas in a card game.  Poof, off to the races.  Decipher was a company that had to such licenses for Star Wars and Star Trek.  Talk about a double whammy.

Both games were wildly popular.  Star Trek was the more technical of the two to play, and a personal favorite.  It even got an overhaul in a second edition.  This was new for card games, as the 2nd edition was not backwards compatible with the 1st edition as a whole, but some cards could be used with the older version.  This was unique in that, though no 1st edition sets were being made, some of the new cards could be used for it. 

Decipher also actively supported both versions, even hold championship events for them at the same time.  A spin off game, The Trouble with Tribbles was added later as well.  This was a separate game all together.  In 2007, the license was up for renewal, they had held it since 1994.  No real information is available as to why they lost it, but it was likely due to cost increases.  Normally, the longer a licensing deal goes on, the more the owner wants each time it is renewed.

Their Star Wars game though had a similar fate, but for different reasons.  This game was the more popular of the two and was the main bread winner in the CCG department.  This license they only held for a few years.  The issue here was that when it was renewal time, a new player had emerged.  Wizards of the Coast.  It wasn’t that Wizards was encroaching on them, it was that they had just been bought by Hasbro, who also happened to own Kenner, the guys that made all the Star Wars Toys at the time.

Since all the toys, better selling than the CCG, were in one place and that place just bought a game company who had a track record with CCGs (MTG) and RPGs (D&D) they competed for that license when it was up for grabs.  Decipher was a lot smaller.  So, they lost it.  Decipher remained and even, for a short time, had the Lord of the Rings license, which they made a TCG for as well, but that went away eventually too.  Thus, a company that made good games couldn’t keep it going in the TCG market because they were borrowing from others.

They even tried to launch their own games using the mechanics they developed for the games, since losing the license doesn’t mean you lose anything unique you did to make the actual game.  Their Wars TCG, that used the old Star Wars mechanics, launched and flopped.  It didn’t have the brand recognition of Star Wars, but they also took over 2 years to get the game out.  I think that had more to do with it.  The game wouldn’t have been as big as Star Wars, but had they moved faster they might have salvaged some of the former player base.

An embezzlement scandal in 2009 almost ended them.  They survived but are kind of in limbo even today. 

The WWE Raw Deal game was huge.  I mean they played their world championships at Wrestlemania with real wrestlers around, and the winner got an actual title belt.  This was an all-in kind of game.  There were unique mechanics.  It was innovative for the time and gave players a new way to play.  It also crossed over demographics, bringing Wrestling fans into the Geek realm.  It was actually fun as heck.

Then the renewal came. 

This wasn’t just a case of WWE wanting more money.  They wanted more control as well.  Like wanting to have final approval of all cards as well as images that were used.  It was just too much for the company.  From what I understand it wasn’t even a money issue, as the game was still doing well, but more oversight just added time and complexity to the process.  And as we all know, scheduling is everything in the world of TCGs.  You have a release process, have to lock on production, distribution, and all that. 

Having one more chef in the kitchen could throw it all out of whack.  So Comic Image (the makers) opted not to renew.  Since the game wasn’t their main source of income, they could afford to let it go.  This is a different case of licensing gone wrong.

Before I go into the comparison to Force, there is another odd case that I wanted to toss out to show how much more it can go wrong.  In 1996, near the height of its popularity, the X-Files even got a CCG.  Weird eh?  That’s not the point though.  Topps card company, yeah, the sports card guys, wanted to get in on the TCG train, so they acquired the rights.  Well, they had no clue how to make it, so they contracted NTX to come up with the mechanics.

Now it gets complicated.  Topps had little experience in the business of TCGs so they tossed the actual game to the US Playing Card Company (USPC).  They finally put the game out.  And guess what?  The first edition sold out.  Then the second addition sold out.  But USPC didn’t make any money.  Why?  They had production fees, advertising fees, Licensing fees to Fox (through Topps) for the X-Files, Licensing fees to NTX for the mechanics, and had to pay Topps on top of that.

An expansion came out and sold alright, but the hype had died down, as it took a while to get things in order.  When a game sells well and you still lose money, then you know you have issues.  Paying fees and royalties to a license owner is one thing, but the deal is usually between two parties, when you have four, and only one is doing all the work, it’s really hard to make money.  A second expansion was designed, but never made.  That just goes to show how messy things can get.  It was a fun game too; I even won a National Title in it.

Now we can compare Force of Will to these examples.  There is really only one thing we have to know, it’s the same thing Force shares with the 4 games that have lasted 20+ years.  None of them have to license squat.  They own their Ips, well Redemption doesn’t but the Bible is public domain.  So, out of some of the most successful games three of them failed due to licensing issues.  A fourth kind of did, but that is another case we’ll discuss later. 

In the realm of stability, Force has this one in the “who cares” list.  And that’s good for those of us that play and those that want to invest.

That will conclude this trip into the past.  Back to finance next time with an explanation of my grades and the 5th products. Unlit then have fun slinging.

Dan Rowland
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About the author


TCG player and enthusiast who has been slinging cards for 25+ years. He has won some stuff, judged, ran events, owned stores, and and sold online. Wannabe writer as well. Having written for sites such as The Dojo and Starcity for various other games, he now wants to try his hand for Force of Will. Also a hack novelist with one book currently published and seller of fine wares at for all things Force of Will and on Facebook.
Not the best of players, but a head for numbers and a historical buff. Sporting degrees in Business and Writing, he hopes to spread some knowledge with a dose of sarcasm. Enjoy the ramblings of a deficient mind and grab a chuckle while you're there.

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